Writer-Director Ryan Kruger talks about his South African cult hit film Fried Barry

The genre-bending, cult style South African film Fried Barry marks the feature-length directing debut of Ryan Kruger and has been distributed internationally in over 50 countries and garnered 23 awards from the festival run.

Cape Town-based actor/director and writer Ryan Kruger has been making movies since he was 14 years old. As a winner of SAMA (South African Music Awards), MTV and GOEMA awards, Ryan is widely celebrated for his outstanding work as a music video director, having directed over 100 music videos.

As a director of dozens short films, Ryan is known for his distinct visual style and character-driven stories.

Fried Barry marks Kruger’s first independent feature film, and will premiere on DStv Box Office on 26 October.

Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with writer-director Ryan Kruger about Fried Barry.

Fried Barry is described as a first in the history of South African cinema: a bizarre tale told in a genre-bending onslaught of sex, drugs, and violence. A spectacle that pulls you in and won’t let go as every expectation is subverted in this boundary-pushing tale of alien abduction. Tell me more about this?

In South Africa we don’t make these type of cult films. We are known for our dramas, comedy and historical movies. Over the past few years there’s been more genre movies coming out of South Africa, which is great. Even the past 2 years there’s been a major difference. It is exciting to finally see South Africa stepping out of their comfort zone. The great thing about Fried Barry is that it’s a genre bending film. It has elements of horror, sci-fi and a lot of dark humour. This film is defiantly not for everyone. It’s quite out there and a very bold film. You will either love it or hate. It’s designed to take you on a journey. It’s a road trip movie without the car. Barry is the car.

What inspired this story of an alien assumes control of a drug addict’s body and takes it on a bizarre joyride through Cape Town?

As a filmmaker you have to think out the box. We sadly live in a generation of remakes and reboots. Filmmakers try to change things we have seen before, just adding a different name, change the location from snow to space or desert, change guns to lasers and so on. It’s hard to find something new and unique. When I came up with the idea I realized we have never seen a drug addict being abducted by aliens in cinema. That really intrigued me. This film was born out of total frustration. I went through a lot before I made this film. In a nutshell I went through depression, had a operation on my kidney, got sepsis and nearly died, lost a girlfriend, my cat got cancer and I went deeper into depression. It was way too much for me at the time, Being at the bottom of the pit, I asked myself what the number one thing was that I’ve always wanted to do. That was to make a film. I came up with a 50 percent scene brief break down in 3 days. A month later I was shooting the movie. Fried Barry was my medicine and got me out of that dark place. Even though it was the worst time of my life going through depression, I am so grateful I went through it because it brought me here. Something always great will come out of darkness. I just used it.

Are you an avid horror fan? What films / filmmakers in this genre inspires you?

I am a big fan of 80s horror and overall 80s cinema. They just don’t make movies like they use to. I really like all types of genres. Tere’s a time a place and mood for everything, just like music. Filmmakers that inspired me were Spielberg, John Carpenter, Jerry Lewis, David Cronenberg and Shin’ya Tsukamoto.

Ryan Kruger with Garry Green and Sean Cameron Michael during filming of Fried Barry. Photos by Graham Bartholomew

The story of Fried Barry began with the 3-minute experimental short film of the same name, shot in 2017. Tell me more about this?

During my depression I decided to make 8 experimental films. Where I could do what I wanted to. And get really creative with no clients or producers telling me what I can or cannot do, and not worrying about getting it on TV. To be able to do my style 100 percent and have total freedom. It just happened that Fried Barry the short was the first one I made. And it’s the only one out of the collection that has been released. Its now 5 years later and I have the last 2 in post. It’s some of my best work I have ever done. After each one is complete it does the festival run overseas. But I will release them as a collection very soon.

The simple concept and stylized execution of the short was a success, earning the film 59 official selections and 13 awards at film festivals across the world. How did you go about reaching such a wide audience?

It was crazy. I sent it to a lot of festivals and more festivals reached out to me that they wanted to screen it. There just seemed to be a lot of interest and a lot of love for it. There was never a plan to make it into a feature. But it did plant a seed in my head am sure.

You never expected your first feature film to be Fried Barry but after positive responses the wheels began to turn. Tell me more about this?

As a director I think all directors think what is the right film to do first. It’s the most important question because it matters what you put out there. What will make a noise? What will be easily forgotten? I never thought it was going to be Fried Barry because I had so many other scripts and I couldn’t decide which one to launch. But as I soon as I got the idea I knew it was the right one straight away. At that time I needed something that was 100 percent my style and something that I could get super creative with.

You proved that it is indeed possible for a short, experimental concept piece with a loose plot to evolve into a fully-fledged feature film?

It all depends on the concept you have. When I looked at it there was nothing there really. It was just about a look and feeling and sticking to a subject you know. So when I looked at the success of the short I was like how the hell can I get this character out of this room? And how would it work with Gary Green.

Tell me more about the importance of breaking the concept into a scene outline over the course of three days.

Every film has its character go on a journey and have the arcs as they go along. Characters need to develop and the story has to move forward. So for me its like looking at any break down of a film where this happens and what the character goes through. From there I would fill in the gaps and write the main dialogue. It was great to be open and that nothing was set in stone. The film needed to breathe and be open to a unpredictable normal structure.

You decided to forgo a traditional script, and chose to workshop the scenes with the cast, work shopped each scene to figure out how we get there. Tell me more about the importance of working with actors to bring the story to life?

Because of the style and type of film I was making, I didn’t want anything set in stone. Most films get a green light and you can’t change anything. I feel that it needs to be organic, where anything could happen and that’s also what acting is… it’s feeling a moment and being real in the scene. As a director I wanted to explore that. We have all heard a actor say “I really don’t think my character would say this” and a lot of the times they are right. As a director my job is to get the best out of actors and make them understand where we are going and what they are feeling. But half of a good director’s job is done with great casting.

Ryan Kruger with Gareth Place – Director of Photography – during filming of Fried Barry. Photos by Graham Bartholomew

Your approach imbued the film with an improvisational energy and resulted in some of the biggest laughs and most affecting moments in the movie. Tell me more about his?

As a director its really just being in the moment of your characters and story and what we would expect to see or how I can make this different. If you know your characters well it opens you up to so many more ideas. If you get a better idea for a scene in a moment and it’s a 100 times better than what’s on the page, I will do it. Some of the best gems in the film came to me either one take in or a second before shooting a scene. And I said let’s try this.

You managed to secure funding from private financiers within a month and started shooting. This clearly highlights the importance of collaboration during the process from page to screen… Your views on this?

We actually didn’t get investor on board until half way through the film. Me and my co producer James C Williamson put up all the money from the start of filming. It was only later on where I showed a director some shots from the film that he wanted to give invest. So there wasn’t any collaboration on what I wanted to do. He just truly believed in me and wanted me to do my thing. Which I am truly grateful for.

You also have a collaborative and improvisational approach to directing, allowing the best ideas to rise to the surface through creative discussions with his cast and crew. 

As an actor myself I love to improvise and I like giving freedom to actors to add stuff and make it there own. Filmmaking is all about collaboration. The only person that didn’t improvise in the film was our lead Gary Green. He isn’t a trained actor and comes from a extra back ground. I cast Gary because I love characters and I knew I could get what I wanted out of him. I knew from the start for this whole film to work it had to be the right character and right story in every aspect as the movie relies on Barry. I needed a clean slate to work with him everyday and be in the moment with him. But Gary did an amazing job. He was always willing to do as many takes and never got frustrated with that. No one but Gary could have done this part. He trusted me and we both had so much fun.

During filming you would write dialogue on a piece of paper while driving from one location to the next. What fostered this?

Every good director should always carry a pen or paper when they get an idea and write it down. Those ideas are always good.

Your views on the importance of directing music videos for some of South Africa’s biggest artists as a step towards making your feature film debut.

I was always known for narrative music videos. I was still telling stories. It’s all about directing performance in a narrative and feeling those moments and hitting those beats. More so than commercials, which am sure a lot of producers in that world would disagree because they just use to look at me as a music video director in the past and maybe not for commercials. The great thing about music videos you can get really creative. There are many directors out there that can’t direct performance and get across what they want in commercials because they are more visual.

Fried Barry is a character-based film featuring over 100 actors, with dozens of bizarre and interesting characters – both major and minor – that bring the world to life. Tell me more about this monumental task?

I knew this drug trip road movie would be an experience. I knew Barry is going to come across a lot of characters. Every single person I cast in this movie did not audition I either worked with them before or wanted to work with them because I knew their work. I put them all in roles I knew they would be great at. And it all worked out perfectly. Every single character is great and interesting. It shows how much amazing talent we have in South Africa with actors.

In signature cult movie style, the movie has inspired artists around the world to create their own Fried Barry-inspired artwork. More about this?

It started with the short experimental which was weird because who wants makes fan art for a short. When the film came out it just went crazy. This has to be the first SA  film to get major fan art. Even people getting tattoos of Barry. Its just insane and incredibly honored that someone would do this.

Your views on the future of filmmaking in South Africa after the impact the Pandemic had on the industry?

I truly believe it gave people a chance to reset and think about what they want to do in life. I think the industry is going to boom again and be better than ever. The content coming out of SA has risen a incredible amount and the standard is higher than ever.

The success of your journey clearly shows that it is vital to remain pro-active.

Absolutely, I love to work and I love what I do. I am constantly at it and I want it just as much as I ever did. So there’s no change in staying pro-active.

I don’t really have a life if I could work everyday onset I would. That saying you have to love what you do and you really do have to eat shit breath movies to make stuff happen and that what divides people who want it.

Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?  Where did it start for you?

It’s been a life time to get here. But working 23 years to get to this point working in film. I started young and never wasted time doing anything else but film. I first got into acting and then making short films with my friends in the UK during the holidays or weekends .My childhood was very much like that film “Super8” It’s all about sticking at something you know that you will never lose interest in. Every parent will say to you as an artist  “maybe get a back up just in case so you can always do something else if it doesn’t work out.” When they said that to me I said OK I will do directing as well. And they rolled their eyes. 😉 .

What tips do you have for aspirant writers and filmmakers to get their work out there.

Pick up a camera and start making content, you are nothing without this. Writers meet directors and get your short scripts made. You have to get out there, there’s a million other people thinking what your thinking work together. Don’t wait just do it!

What do you hope audience will get out of experiencing Fried Barry?

Have fun. Be open-minded. It was designed to take you on a trip and for you to have an experience that you will never forget, even if you love it or hate it, you will remember this film.

Tell me about the international success of Fried Barry?

So far, we have it distributed in over 50 countries and still hitting it hard. This month we have the SA release so it’s great to bring it back home. Getting AMC to buy the film really was a game changer.  The media overseas has been amazing. Getting it into the likes of The Guardian and Empire magazines and Fangoria and New York Times and constant interviews has focused attention on the film.

 I hope the film carries on and people have been asking for a follow up film, so lets see what happens.